Beijing -- Falun Gong supporters have sued Chinese President Jiang Zemin in U.S. federal court, accusing him of committing torture and genocide in China's crackdown on the spiritual movement, a lawyer for the group said Wednesday.
The announcement came on the first day of Jiang's trip to the United States. Lawyer Terri E. Marsh said a notice of the lawsuit was delivered to the Chinese leader's guards at his Chicago hotel.
The lawsuit adds to efforts by Falun Gong to use U.S. courts to punish Chinese officials for the 3-year-old crackdown, in which activists say more than 500 supporters have been killed.
The press office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing said it had not heard of the lawsuit and couldn't confirm whether Jiang had received court papers.
Marsh said the lawsuit was filed under a law allowing U.S. courts to hear cases against foreigners accused of human rights abuses or violations of international law abroad.
It asks for unspecified financial damages and for the federal court in Chicago to prohibit Jiang from committing future abuses, she said by telephone from Chicago.
"Jiang Zemin is orchestrating the torture of people who simply embrace the principles of truthfulness, forbearance and compassion,'' she said, referring to the doctrine espoused by the group's followers.
China banned Falun Gong in mid-1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule. The group had attracted millions of followers with its mix of slow-motion exercises and teachings drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the doctrines of its founder, a former Chinese government clerk.
Thousands of members have been detained. Most are released after a few weeks, but activists say more than 500 have been killed. Chinese officials deny mistreating anyone, though they say some detainees have died during hunger strikes or from refusing medical attention.
In 2001, a Chinese police official from the central province of Hubei was the target of a US$50 million lawsuit in U.S. federal court. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Chinese man who said his mother and brother were killed in the crackdown.
A judge in New York entered a judgment against the official after he failed to contest the lawsuit, but there is no indication the plaintiffs will be able to collect damages.
Chinese authorities call Falun Gong an "evil cult'' and blame it for some 1,600 deaths. They say its teachings prompted members to commit murder or suicide or to refuse medication.
Foreign leaders usually cannot be sued in U.S. court for their official acts. However, Marsh said U.S. District Judge William J. Hibbler in Chicago allowed the lawsuit to proceed after lawyers argued that U.S. law removes such immunity for human rights violations.
"We're looking at Jiang Zemin's acts as going beyond the parameters of a head of state,'' she said.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 18 but kept sealed by the judge until this week to allow the plaintiffs to serve papers on Jiang, Marsh said.